Thursday, March 30, 2017

Beyond the Business Books

By: Alex Napoli Non-Profit Development Intern

As a business management and finance major, I sometimes find it difficult to explain the nature of Save The Bay and its role as a non-profit organization. Many of my peers confuse non-profit with anti-profit. We have been coached in business school to maximize shareholder wealth and judge a business on how much value it creates. While this all is valuable knowledge, successful organizations cannot use this as their driving factor. In successful organizations, a new understanding of value must be developed. Value must transcend profits and drives an organization beyond making a dollar. This subtle engine is never clearer than at a non-profit, specifically, Save The Bay.

For Save The Bay, and many other non-profits, value is not directly linked to wealth. Rather, it is measured in the benefit provided to stakeholders and beneficiaries. Because of this, generating value can take many forms. Value can be created through restoration projects, fundraising campaigns, educational programs, and many more. In order to grow, Save The Bay’s value must be supported by a different type of organizational structure and a culture energized by something greater than generating wealth.

Save The Bay’s structure does not resemble the stereotypical American business. No fancy offices, no stock prices, no intercompany rivalry, and no business sharks (Save The Bay does have dogfish sharks though!). While Save The Bay may not have the staples found in a normal American business, it has an energy, passion, and motivation that would rival Wall Streets most successful hedge fund.

So where does this energy come from? How does this power generate value? The power is found in the members of Save The Bay and the purpose we all share. Save The Bay’s purpose is not to generate the most wealth, it is stronger than that, Save The Bay’s mission is to protect and improve Narragansett Bay. This purpose directs all of Save The Bay’s actions, even its fundraising. One way or another, all members of Save The Bay believe in this purpose as well. Even though our unique experiences and stories may be different, they share this common bond and allow us to develop true value.

Purpose is what rallies volunteers. Purpose is what engages new members. Purpose is what cleans up the bay and educates the community. And in the end, Purpose is what will achieve our mission of cleaning up Narragansett Bay for future generations.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Our Spotfin Butterfly fish: As Lively as His Name Sounds

By Rebecca Proulx, communications intern

The spotfin butterflyfish is a mouthful to say, a handful to take care of and a wonder to observe. Two years ago, our beautiful tropical fish (let’s call him Spotty for short) was brought to the Save The Bay Exploration Center and Aquarium by Emo, one of our organization’s volunteer snorkelers. But that’s not as uncommon as one might think. In fact, snorkelers and fisherman often bring stray tropical fish to Save The Bay’s Exploration Center so they can live a long life.

You see, while Spotty has called the Exploration Center his home now for a while, he is far from his place of origin. Fish like Spotty are known as Gulf Stream orphans. Native to the Caribbean seas, they are frequently swept up in the gulf stream and deposited in Long Island waters. Many make their way to Rhode Island Sound and Narragansett Bay. But they wouldn’t live long in our cold northern winter waters, so in order to protect these tropical species, and teach our community about them, Save The Bay cares for them in our Exploration Center.

In the beginning, Spotty was a finicky eater and difficult to please. “At first, we had to wean him off of shrimp and onto anemones. This took a long time, but he eventually adjusted,” said Exploration Center and Aquarium Manager Adam Kovarsky. Spotty was quite the busybody while I visited and enjoyed darting all around the tank to complicate my photo-taking process. Typical to his species, he loved ducking behind little cave and coral formations in the tank but never stayed in one place for long. Like many tropical fish, Spotty sports bright colors. Though a small fish, Spotty is a sight to behold sporting vibrant yellow fins and unique black markings to contrast nicely with his white body. His colors are entrancing and always draw in many visitors to the tank.

He’s the lone spotfin butterflyfish in his tank of other tropicals. I learned from Adam that this species of fish gets along fine with all other types in the tank, but can never be kept in close quarters with others of his kind. Despite their meek size and pretty colors, spotfin butterflyfish are very aggressive toward their own species and will kill each other when they are put together in any context other than mating. This aggressive trait certainly isn’t one I would pair with such a petite and beautiful fish, but looks can be deceiving.
Speaking of deception, spotfin butterflyfish are crafty and masters of using their outer beauty to trick predators. The dark spot acting as a fake eye on Spotty’s dorsal fin and the vertical black bar running through his eye confuse predators so they have trouble honing in on which end of the fish to attack. Spotty also goes through an interesting transformation once night falls. In the evening, the dark spot grows larger and dark bands appear more prominent on his body. This ruse is to further muddle nocturnal predators in the mood for a late-night snack.

The bright colors that mark a spotfin butterflyfish are not only a cunning disguise, but are also beautiful to look at, making them a consistent staple of aquarium trade. But they’re needed outside, too. Spotfin butterflyfish contribute to their native ecosystems by consuming populations of coral, tubeworms, and many small invertebrates, keeping these populations in check so they don’t grow beyond the capacity of their environment and encroach on other species.

While, for the most part, fish like Spotty aren’t yet making huge waves being swept into our Bay ecosystem, many of the tropical strays are showing up earlier and surviving longer, an indication of changing climate conditions. We don’t know how tropical fish will eventually interact with our native populations when warming waters bring more tropical travelers here by choice, but they present another important potential consequence for climate change discussions.

Come visit the Save The Bay Exploration Center and Aquarium to say hello to Spotty and other incredible species soon! Our winter (Labor Day-Memorial Day) hours are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. We are located at 175 Memorial Blvd, Newport, RI 02840. You can even feed our friend and see him in action along with sharks, octopuses, and many more at our Feeding Frenzy event. Feeding Frenzies are held on the third Thursday of each month, 5–6 p.m. General admission is $10; call 401-324-6020 to register.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Sea Squirts: Invasive but important

By Evelyn Siler, Save The Bay intern

Of the thousands of marine animals in Narragansett Bay and nearby coastal waters, perhaps the most overlooked is the sea squirt. Sea squirts, or ascidians, are marine invertebrate filter feeders. They attach to rocks, marinas, and even other organisms during early development and remain there for the duration of their lives. They may even be under your local dock!

Many members of the ascidiacea commonly found in Narragansett Bay are actually invasive species and are not native to Rhode Island. They have similar feeding habits to local blue mussels and inhabit similar environments, which causes them to compete with the blue mussels for space and food sources. Sea squirts and mussels both use pumping mechanisms to take the algae out of the water, digest it, and squirt out waste.

Although many sea squirts are invasive, they are actually very useful to scientists across Rhode Island who collect them for genetics research, cell culture, and other experiments. In fact, on the evolutionary tree, the sea squirt diverged from vertebrates more recently than any other invertebrate! They are an excellent choice for biologists interested in the genomes of a variety of organisms due to the fact that sea squirts share many similar genes with vertebrates, including humans. Studying the genes of these model organisms can increase our understanding of various pathways and mechanisms as they apply to humans and eventually lead to advancements in medicine and pharmaceuticals.

So, even though the simple sea squirt may be invasive to Narragansett Bay, it serves a valuable purpose to scientists across Rhode Island and indirectly, to all who benefit from advances made as a result of sea squirt research!

Evelyn Siler is a Cell and Molecular Biology Major at the University of Rhode Island and interns with Save The Bay at the South Coast Center in Westerly.

Monday, March 20, 2017

How's the Climate? Inspiring Climate-Savvy, Creative Solutions Among Future Generation


Across countries and cultures, for all of humanity, the default conversation piece is “How’s the weather?” And could there be a more interesting time to be alive to ask and answer this question? Every person can add an essential piece to the weather question: “How’s our climate, and how do my actions and the actions of my community affect it?”

Students test water quality 
aboard M/V Alletta Morris.
Climate Interpretation 101

At Save The Bay, we are in the unique position of touching the lives of some 15,000 K-12 students every year. As we introduce them to Narragansett Bay and the life it supports, we try to instill a keen sense of understanding of our ecological surroundings — starting with “how’s the weather” and continuing deeper in how and why our climate is changing.

The truth is, despite being one of the most politicized and overwhelming environmental topics humanity has ever faced, basic climate science is only now, and very gradually, reaching the American public. Save The Bay is changing that trend, one student at a time, by translating essential scientific concepts in a meaningful and engaging way.

Our work in climate change education is guided by the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change and the world-renowned Frameworks Institute. These organizations offer our staff cutting-edge interpretation techniques that have shaped our hands-on, multi-disciplinary climate change curriculum and inspire students to take action. Take a peek at these tested and proven techniques in the field:

Use of Metaphors

The mechanism of climate change can be taught in less than one minute with this simple metaphor:

“When humans burn fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and gasoline for transportation and electricity, we release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This excess carbon dioxide works like a heat-trapping blanket, holding too much of the sun’s heat in our atmosphere and warming our planet.” As a result, water and air temperatures have risen an average of 4°F and 2°F, respectively, since the 1930s, and precipitation trends in this region are becoming heavier and more frequent. In fact, rainfall rates in R.I. increased by 12” since 1905, with a 104% increase in heavy downpours.

Save The Bay’s education staff integrates such metaphors into our programs. On a series of boat trips for Westerly Middle School students on the Pawcatuck River, we review with students the climate change metaphor before doing water quality testing, and then probe further: “We heard that burning of fossil fuels can cause a rise in water temperatures. Did you know that warmer waters hold less oxygen? Let’s test this water to find out how warm and how oxygenated it is. Can we find a trend between surface and bottom samples?”

Students also draw connections between the release of carbon dioxide from burning of fossil fuels and ocean acidification. “Did you know that rampant carbon dioxide from transportation and generation of electricity can also influence the acidity of the water? How can we test for acidity in our water? Let’s review our pH scale and see what the pH of the Pawcatuck River is.”

Exploration Center and Aquarium interns and staff 
talk with guests about climate change causes, 
effects and solutions whenever possible, 
drawing connections to the marine life in the aquarium.
Shared Values

At Save The Bay, we realize our students and audiences come to us with varying philosophies that guide their perception of climate change. We attempt to transcend these viewpoints by focusing on shared values. We rely on the natural resources around us, so it is up to us to protect these resources from the harm caused by a changing climate. We can responsibly manage this problem by coming together with our schools, towns, and communities to reduce our use of fossil fuels. In doing so, we give Narragansett Bay and all of its incredible assets a fighting chance to be healthy for future generations.

This technique has been successful at our Aquarium and Exploration Center as a means for meeting a deeper engagement level with guests. When we meet our constituency around common values, they are more curious and willing to engage about real problems and real solutions.

Community-Scale Solutions

Climate change is overwhelming; it is up to us to communicate and mobilize our audiences around options for resiliency and success. Community-based solutions meet the scale and scope of the problem and motivate and inspire. Individual solutions such as “ride your bike,” and “turn off the lights” tend to convey blame onto “you” or “me” and are proven to be much less effective than community-focused solutions. By saying “WE can work together to address this problem,” educators turn the conversations toward step-by-step solutions and ask the audience to join ongoing efforts to mitigate climate change, such as home energy auditing and solar installations.

Fourth-grade students at Save The Bay often play an interactive game called “carbon travels” where they learn about how carbon molecules move through different forms on our planet. After this explorative activity, students participate in a Greenhouse Gas Tag, an active game that allows students to model the cause of climate change. They travel through the “atmosphere” and into the “earth” as a “light ray. If they make it to “earth,” they get re-emitted as a “heat ray.” If they are tagged by a “carbon dioxide molecule” they must become part of the “heat trapping blanket.” In order to escape the “blanket,” they must cite an activity that could reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Student-driven community-scale ideas have included: plant a tree in our school yard, start idle-free zones at schools and churches, join a walking school bus, advocate for bike safety/bike paths in their communities, put reminders in our school to turn off lights and computers and get friends to play outside instead of with video games. All great stuff!

Our educators integrate information about Save The Bay’s 
work around climate change into our teaching, inviting 
students to suggest activities that could 
reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Mission: Possible

All in all, Save The Bay’s work around climate change solutions and action is a process of learning and growth for all of us. Weaning ourselves off fossil fuels is going to take a tremendous cultural shift and require the concern and commitment of everyone. We’re just at the beginning, but we’re already seeing signs of success:

As part of our Project Narragansett program, local fourth-grade teachers complete our professional development program, “Kid Friendly and Fun Climate Interpretation Techniques and Curriculum Building,” and then bring their students to Save The Bay for several environmental sciences experiences throughout the school year. Seeing the value in learning about climate change solutions as a means of protecting our waters, more and more teachers are choosing our “Carbon Cycle and Climate Change” curriculum for their students’ field trips with us.

We occasionally survey our guests, using NNOCI tools, following a seal tour or visit to our Exploration Center and Aquarium. More than two-thirds of these folks say they have a better understanding of the causes and impacts of climate change, as well as a sense of obligation to do something about it.

Save The Bay’s mission is to protect and improve Narragansett Bay, and it’s been our belief since our beginnings that we can better achieve our mission with the help of future generations of Bay stewards who will continue our work far into the future. That what we are doing for climate change education is so well received, and the majority of audiences we work with leave our program with an increased sense of stewardship and empowerment to protect it from harm, tells us the future of Narragansett Bay is in good hands.

Become a climate interpreter! Visit and sign up for Changing the Conversation on Climate and Ocean Change.